The political crisis in Somalia caused by the long-delayed elections has recently culminated in what many see as a coup attempt, the warning signs of which have been overlooked.
With this dangerous new political twist, we’ll try to reflect on what puzzled many political commentators who didn’t see it coming, at a time when the nation was finally gearing up to go to the election.
Few people expected that Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble, described as a peacemaker for his apparent neutrality and his apolitical past, would be at the origin of this new crisis.
It is not known yet exactly when Prime Minister Roble defected to the opposition, but early signs of his recent political about-face were evident.
PM Roble slow start in Somali politics
President Farmajo, who is known to prioritize new blood and technocrats when staffing top positions, appointed Roble as a prime minister on Sept 18, 2020.
It is said that Ahmed Karie Qoorqoor, the Galmudug state president, recommended him, but other influences and factors, mainly clan affiliation, may have played a key role in his selection as Prime Minister.
On September 23, Roble was unanimously confirmed by the Federal Parliament, eight weeks after his predecessor was ousted in a vote of no confidence.
Mr. Roble has worked with United Nations agencies and didn’t have any prior experience in politics. He was soft-spoken and lacked the presence of Hassan Ali Khayre, his flamboyant predecessor.
The new PM was appointed just after the September 17 election agreement between the president and the regional leaders and 143 days to name a new cabinet and organize the elections.
Many believed his job would be easy but as December was approaching Jubbaland and Puntland were dragging their feet to implement the Sept 17 agreement.
The opposition presidential candidates united under the Union of Presidential candidates (UPC) started as soon as November 2020 to make noise and posed a great security challenge to the government.
What many Somalis did not know at the time and has just become public knowledge is Roble’s connection to Dam-Jadid (New Blood in Arabic), a secret religious brotherhood, active in Somalia’s political scene.
This brotherhood, which had its glory days under former president Hassan Sheikh Mahamoud, a leading Dam-Jadid member and a UPC associate, has infiltrated the federal and regional public service.
How did the PM capitalize on opposition intransigence?
While Somalis were concerned about the stalemate in election negotiations with the opposition, Prime Minister Roble found opportunities to weave a deceptive web inside and outside the government.
After February 7, when the incumbent’s term officially ended, Roble attempted to save Dhusamareb’s last failed negotiations by appointing a technical committee that met on February 15 and 16 in Baidoa.
However, the UPC ensured that President Farmajo was not given a chance to extend his stay at Villa Somalia and by the 19 it was clear that the Daljirka-Dahsoon clash was in fact aimed at removing the president violently.
It is believed that February 25 was the turning point for the Prime Minister after his first official meeting with the UPC opposition, mostly Dam-Jadid members, to supposedly defuse the tension in Mogadishu.
Roble reassured the opposition that despite his position, he was not Farmajo’s man and ensured that rebel army officers could return to their bases without any risk of being court-martialed or fired.
After concerted diplomatic pressure on the government and a fierce attack by opposition militias in Mogadishu on April 22, Roble intervened and urged Farmajo to let him handle the election talks, implementation and security arrangements.
Many hostile elements inside and outside the government were relieved by the President’s May 1st announcement that Roble would have all the power necessary to hold a free, fair, secure and transparent election.
The president had little option as western countries as well as some African and Arab countries were pushing for Roble to take over the elections talks with the opposition and regional leaders.
Farmajo was now isolated by the international community which praised Roble’s role in taking charge of the deadlocked election talks.
PM Roble and Fahad Yasin
While hostile foreign officials hailed the transfer of election management to Roble, Farmajo’s popularity has remained intact among national security forces and the public at home and abroad.
Immediately, Roble who didn’t appreciate Fahad Yasin, the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) director, role and influence on the government took steps to eliminate him.
Fahad Yasin, the man who reformed the NISA, is president Farmajo most trusted man and essential to his re-election.
During Roble’s regular meeting with the opposition, there were also accusation NISA boss having placed operatives within the Federal Electoral Implementation Team (FEIT).
With the help of the opposition, he began the process of expelling electoral commission members suspected of belonging to the NISA or close to the president.
Yasin was also accused of being Qatar’s man in Somalia and was on Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates firing line since Somalia refused to take sides in the Gulf dispute.
Qatar, however, disappointed by President Farmajo’s stubbornness on the Somali South Sea issue, wanted to review its policy in Somalia by now approaching PM Roble who has showed great flexibility.
Roble took the opportunity to propose Colonel Abdullahi Dahir “Dheere”, to replace Yasin as head of the NISA. Abdullahi Dheere is related to Ahmed Madobe, Jubbaland president, and has Qatari citizenship.
Unsurprisingly, also, just six days after being mandated to carry out the elections, the Saudis invited Roble to their country to perform the Umrah pilgrimage in Mecca and sent him a private jet.
A week later, he was invited by Djibouti president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, to his inauguration where he met all the regional leaders who disagreed with Farmajo including Uhuru Kenyatta and Musa Bihi.
But to challenge President Farmajo, Fahad Yasin must be sacked or any coup attempt would be futile.
Roble’s secret campaign to oust Yasin
Roble started to confront Fahad Yasin on July 23. The prime minister ordered him to fire his deputy, Abdullahi Kulane, following an accusation that he had prevented Osman Nur Maalimu from boarding a plane to Gedo.
Mr. Maalimu, the former Gedo region governor, is a strong Ahmed Madobe ally in the region and has been suspected of fomenting unrest in Gedo to keep the return the region to the Jubbaland president’s authority.
The Prime Minister didn’t react when few days earlier after Madobe refused a plane carrying Abdi Ali Rage, President Farmajo’s political advisor, to land in Kismayo. Roble’s double standard wasn’t lost to Yasin who instead transferred Kulane to a different position within the agency.
Yasin’s bold action upset Roble who wasn’t ready to strike back. But he was even more furious when a week later, after returning from London, the NISA chief informed President Farmajo that the prime minister was considering signing deals with Kenya.
But he went ahead with his ill-advised plan even after the President issued a statement against it.
Roble was ready to hit a big blow to Farmajo and Yasin but needed to secure support from foreign nations like Egypt he visited on August 16 delaying the scheduled Electoral Consultative Council meeting.
On August 22, after a short meeting with regional states, Roble shocked the nation by changing the September 17 agreement terms and giving regional states the freedom to conduct the Lower House elections with no federal oversight.
The Prime Minister met members of the UPC who initially protested against the new electoral process and assured them that they would have a good chance of getting their allies elected.
This was a blow against Farmajo’s chance to have a say or at least a fair electoral process, as the FEIT has been stripped of its powers.
Ready to go to the next step, on September 2, Roble used Fahad Yasin trip to Turkey to publish a statement attributed to NISA on the National news agency website, regarding Ikran Tahlil disappearance.
The actions that followed were seen as the final step towards eliminating Fahad Yasin and further isolating for President Farmajo.
This coup attempt, the warning signs of which had been evident several months earlier, could well be the end of Farmajo’s political career, the questioning of all the gains made during his administration in the past four years and a new takeover by the Dam-Jadid.
Roble’s quiet attitude and his early interventions in favor of peace and dialogue have fooled many, but it is still time to stop him before his attempt to gain more power and turn the country upside down succeeds.